Saturday, November 5, 2011

One Hopes

On Friday, when I was in the supermarket in Koroni, an older man bumped into me, and begged what I assumed was a Greek apology. I just smiled, shrugged, and made a move to get on with my day.

Suddenly he was trying to have a conversation with me, and when he realized I wasn't Greek - something he professed shock and awe at - he switched to English and asked if I was German or British. I told him I was Canadian.

Then he asked if I was from Toronto or Montreal. I told him I was from Calgary.

He slapped his forehead in glee. Apparently he has friends in Calgary. He then accepted me as one of his family, told me I had to come over for dinner at some point, gave me his name, and informed me, with pride, that he drives a taxi. Here, that is nothing to sniff at. It costs something like 200,000 Euro to purchase a Taxi Licence. He patted me on the back, and went on his way.

I finished my shopping and went to the harbor front, settled in at a gorgeous little Cafe Bar, and thought about the many odd encounters I have had while I have been here. I don't think I have gone out once without entering into a full blown conversation - many of which I do not understand - with at least one of the people who happens to cross my path.

I am not a particularly extroverted or loud person, I am usually content to not be in the middle of things but to sit in a corner and watch, and I am never the life of the party.

That type of person - the person who I am not - is someone I think would be more likely to have a constant stream of bizarre conversations and interactions to recollect.

Yet, here I am. I just have to look at someone, and they want to settle in for a chat.

And that, I think, is the crux of the matter. I actually look at people. I make eye contact. I smile.

I am beginning to realize that this might be a rather rare thing.


A few weeks ago, on one of the Saturday hikes, I ended up in a long conversation with one of the most lovely ladies I have ever met. She is a small Dutch woman, with a gorgeously weathered face, lovely cheekbones, and bright blond hair. She - at 59 - and her husband - in his mid 60s - set out a couple years ago to backpack through Asia. They were gone for a year. She glows when she talks about it. It was the fulfillment of a dream she had held for about 40 years - which had been shelved when she met her husband, got married, had children, and worked as a teacher.

I quizzed her about Thailand and India and Bali, and she answered all of my questions in detail, and then told me that I should just go sometime. I told her I hoped to.

And then suddenly we were talking about me - something I usually tend to avoid at all costs, especially if the conversation turns personal.

Rather abruptly, apropos of nothing really, she looked at me and said, "I am sure you must have to be careful."

I looked at her, puzzled.

"You are so natural and friendly. You have a very free and easy way about you. You are very open and welcoming and interested in everyone around you."

I blushed, for I consider that a great compliment.

"Men, I am sure, misinterpret that, and many women, I am positive of this fact, become resentful, because they wish they could be as natural and open. I know - because you remind me of me when I was your age."

And suddenly I was telling her all about some of my slightly weird, sometimes hilarious, occasionally traumatizing experiences that seemed to prove her right. I told her how a certain easiness and trust I used to have, for people on whom I thought I could bestow it, is no longer in my possession, only to be replaced by a nervous wariness. I told her how demoralizing it has been to realize I have to stop and examine any natural impulses I have to be generous and friendly, because now I am terrified that a message will be read that isn't there.

She looked at me sadly. "What a world we live in, where a beautiful open character, full of friendliness and generosity must be hidden, simply because it is easier for some people to try to twist and warp goodness than to protect it."


Sitting by the Harbor in Koroni, with the friendly taxi driver and the lovely Dutch woman fresh on my mind, I came to some conclusions.

Even if unpleasant things occasionally come my my, I do not want to be one of those people who shuffles by, never making eye contact. I don't want to never smile at strangers. I like smiling. I want to show my interest in people, because I am genuinely interested in them. I want to be friendly and open and welcoming not just to those I know, but those I don't, because sometimes when a stranger is friendly, it can make your day.

If I hadn't been all of those things, I never would have had a conversations about kibbutzim in Israel, or barley rusk pizzas, obscure music from the seventies, and how to card wool. I wouldn't have talked to a girl my age who told me about her two little girls, and how maybe she got married too young, but how she is happy, and her girls are amazing. I wouldn't have had a mysterious conversation with a possible gangster. I wouldn't know how Qigong works, how to make mincemeat, or how to properly cure olives. I wouldn't know what a tongue that has had a piece of cancer taken out of it looks like (really cool, actually), or what it is like to realize you live in a country where it is impossible to find a builder who can construct a house with straight walls.

Every good thing has a shadow side; the key must surely be to not let the shadow engulf what is good and hide it from sight.


And let's face it: Any size shadow is worth gaining enough trust from a local so that she tells me the utterly scandalous news that the gorgeous (stunning) post mistress is actually a Russian mail order bride, married to one of the most obese men we have both ever seen.

"At least he is a kind man."

"Well, that surely counts for something."

In tones of complete skepticism: "Hmm. One hopes."

Yes, one does.

1 comment:

  1. So beautiful, Mary! Thanks for posting this one! I am that 'shuffle-by-no-eye-contact' type these days but trying to work up the courage to be more open and friendly lately :)